Recently a good friend of mine mentioned that her school was building a bus shelter. "Do you have any ideas as to how we could modify or improve the design?" was the question she asked, hoping to give the children a nicer place to be while they were waiting for the bus.
I put my thinking cap on, and the ideas I came up with were painting the inside with whiteboard paint or blackboard paint, so that the students would have something to "doodle" with while they were waiting. I wondered about a vertical garden on the outside, where edible plants could grow. I thought about the floor and how it could be painted with markings. Then I found out the bus shelter isn't going to have walls -it will just be 4 posts with a cover overhead! So back to the drawing board!
However, I thought it was great that the school's parent group was thinking about how they could maximise an opportunity. An important reminder that no matter how big or small a project is, there is always a chance to innovate!!
So 2014 has started with a bang! Here at Clearview, we made the committment to teach collaboratively, right from Day 1 of the new school year. It has been interesting for me, as I have been released from my classroom for the first 6 weeks, to implement some ICT initiatives and provide support for teachers. This has meant the opportunity to spend time in all parts of the school and to see first hand how teachers and students are working together.
As part of our PD discussions last year, we decided that it was important that students and parents felt right from the start of the year, that there was more than one teacher involved in their education. In our 2013 "Meet the teacher" session, we had students meet altogether with the teachers who were to be part of their 2014 "power team." We made sure that on Day 1 of our 2014 school year, there were opportunities for students to all be together to get to know each other and their teachers.
Last year when creating our new classes, rather than create them in a traditional way with each homebase getting assigned students, we created clusters of students, then separated them into homebases for management reasons. For example, in my team we created 3 clusters of 45 students. We looked across those 45 children for behavioural issues and diverse learners as you would normally. It did mean however, that we didn't need to worry if a student was "on their own" in a homebase at a particular level, as there would be others in their power class that they could be grouped with.
We have also experimented with furniture and setup in different ways. In my team, classes are mostly working in power teams of 2 teachers and 45 kids. One room may be set up as a large open space, while another room may be set up as "rooms within rooms" for the children to work in. Different teachers are making use of the learning studio space in unique ways. Some using it as a watering hole space, others using it as a teaching space, others as a working space. Most often it is a mix of all three.
We are developing ownership of the space, by making sure students have a presence in all spaces. One room might display art and inquiry work for all students. Another room might have maths and writing displays for all students. In our newsletters, we have made parents feel welcome to visit all teachers and all learning spaces that their children are involved with.
As I have moved around our school, I have definitely noticed that the environment feels very welcoming and collaborative. It is very busy, but when you stand back and watch, you see students using all of our spaces, interacting with each other and a high level of engagement.
I am about to head into my classroom for the remainder of the year, so exciting times ahead.
My name is Ngaire Shepherd-Wills. This website is a record of my TeachNZ sabbatical, Term 2, 2013 and then I have continued to share my wonderings and discoveries about Innovative Learning Practices. I now work for CORE Education. Views are my own.